Castleford Tigers v St Helens - Mike McMeeken hoping Tigers can measure up against Saints

WHEN Castleford Tigers’ first-team players and staff arrive at training each morning they have a ritual of making sure they shake everyone’s hands at the first opportunity they get.

It has been going on since the start of pre-season, introduced to re-enforce their respect for one another and remind them of the team ethos as they set about their working day.

Obviously, this tactile welcome has needed to be put on hold of late as one of the measures put in place to reduce the risk of coronavirus

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“We do have a thing with handshaking,” conceded second-row Mike McMeeken.

Castleford's Mike McMeeken in a team huddle before kick off.

“We do a lot of handshaking. But there’s a lot of waves and air fist pumps now! Hopefully we won’t catch it.

“Obviously, it’s all over the news. Everyone is a bit on edge with it; we’re not sure what’s happening whether we can go out or can’t go out.

“There’s loads of people bulk-buying in the shops but we just have to get on with our lives day by day and hopefully we get used to it.

“It’s weird to talk about as we don’t know what’s happening.”

Although most of the sporting calendar has been suspended, from Premier League football to Six Nations rugby union, rugby league seems to be pushing on for now.

As it stands, Castleford hope there should be no reason to postpone tomorrow’s home match with St Helens which has now also been scheduled for a live broadcast by Sky Sports given their entire football programme has been decimated.

It is, then, a good chance to see if the Tigers are truly in touching distance of the reigning champions, a side they eventually hope to emulate in their long, continued bid for an elusive league championship.

McMeeken helped Castleford to a first-ever League Leaders’ Shield in 2017 when they also reached a maiden Grand Final, only to fall to Leeds Rhinos.

Daryl Powell’s side have threatened to become a Super League force since he took charge in 2013 but know they still have work to do to overhaul the likes of Saints.

Asked what is required to reach that standard, England international McMeeken – out of contract this autumn – said: “They are the benchmark team over the last few seasons.

“And they set the standards so most teams strive to be better than them. For us we’ve been a bit off on our starts so we need to be tweaking up on them. If we can get a good start we can keep that going through the 80 and give them a good contest.

“One to 17 they are quite a threat. You have the likes of Jonny Lomax, James Roby, Alex Walmsley and Luke Thompson just to name a few.

“We have to be at the races ourselves. It’s all about ourselves on Sunday. Saints are a quality side and we have got to make sure we focus on ourselves first and then worry about them. If we don’t turn up, Saints will punish anyone. It should be a good game and we’re really looking forward to it.”

Castleford scrum-half Danny Richardson certainly is as he faces his former club for the first time since being sold in the off-season.

The England Knights player is one of the reasons Tigers have made a positive start to 2020 with four wins from their opening six games, even if they suffered heartache with a late 9-8 defeat at Warrington last week.

At the same time, Saints suffered a shock 12-10 home defeat against Huddersfield Giants, showing they are still fallible under new coach Kristan Woolf.

Meanwhile, former London Broncos forward McMeeken, 25, is showing improved form after a battle with injury and the competition for places is playing its part.

“In training especially we’re all pushing ourselves,” he said.

“There’s four or five back-rows back fit now. Myself, Jesse (Sene-Lefao), Ogi (Holmes) when he’s back, Cheyse Blair’s moved from centre and is performing well and Alex Foster is coming back into contention as well.

“So we’re all pushing to make sure we’re better each week.”

He hopes to do enough to force into Shaun Wane’s England plans having last represented his country at the 2017 World Cup.

However, club form is his priority, making sure Tigers – who see Liam Watts replace Holmes – are in the running to be shaking hands again over a job well done come the end of the season.